[This Article, “The Supreme Consummation of Self-knowledge (in Summary)” is about the aspect of “How To” attain the unbroken abidance in/as the Self by a mature and ready seeker. It is (mainly) based on Shankara’s explanation at 18.50, BGB.]
Q: Of what nature is the Self-knowledge?
A: Of the same nature as the Self.
(In other words, Self and Self-knowledge are one and the same).
Q: Of what nature is the Self ?
A: Of the (same) nature as described by Lord Krishna (in the Bhagavad-Gita) and (also) as mentioned in the Upanishads.
Q: But the Upanishads say that the Supreme Self is formless and featureless. For example,
अरूपम् (formless) — 1.3.15, kaTha Upanishad.
Further, it is also said that the Self is not an ‘object’ that is available for perception:
न सन्दृशे तिष्ठति रूपमस्य न चक्षुषा पश्यति कश्चनैनम् (His form does not exist within the range of vision; nobody sees Him with the eye) – 4.20, Shwetaswatara; 2.3.9, kaTha.
In addition, the Self is,
अशब्दमस्पर्शम् (soundless, not touchable) – 1.3.15, kaTha.
The Self and the cognition (*) there of being formless and intangible, how can there be constant consummation on the Self?
A: [ (*) Let us first consider what “cognition” is.
The kena Upanishad tells us:
प्रतिबोधविदितं मतम् (known with reference to each state of intelligence) – 2.4, kena Upanishad.
The word “bodha” in the above mantra from kena stands for the “cognitions” acquired through the intellect. The Self, that encompasses all ideas as Its objects, is known in relation to all these ideas. Being the witness of all cognitions, and by nature nothing but the power of consciousness, the Self is indicated by the cognitions themselves, in the midst of cognitions, as non-different from them. There is no other door to Its awareness.
Therefore, when brahman is known as the innermost Self (i.e. Witness) of cognitions, then is It matam (known). That is to say, then there is Its complete realization.
Only by accepting brahman as the Witness of all cognitions can it be established that It is by nature a witness which is not subject to growth and decay; It is eternal, unconditioned, and pure in essence; It is the Self, One in all beings, just as it is in the case of AkAsha (space) because of the non-difference of its characteristics despite its existence in pots, caves, etc. ]
Now to answer the Question, “The Self and Its cognition being formless and intangible, how can there be constant consummation on the Self?:
Since it can be established that the Self is supremely taintless, pure and subtle, and it can also be established that the intellect can have taintlessness etc. like the Self, it stands to reason to hold that the intellect can put on the semblance of that (which is manifested as the) consciousness aspect of the Self.
Everywhere, from the intellect (buddhi) down to the physical body, the cause of illusory identification of each with the Self is its wearing a semblance of the consciousness aspect of the Self; and it is, therefore, unnecessary to impart directly the Knowledge of the Self.
Q: What then is necessary ?
A: What is necessary is the mere elimination of the not-Self associated with the Self – names, forms and the like. It is unnecessary to try and teach what the consciousness of the Self is like, inasmuch as it is invariably comprehended in association with the various objects of perception that are superimposed (on It) through ignorance.
To repeat, what is to be undertaken is only the elimination of the superimposition on brahman through ignorance, but no effort is needed for knowing brahman (Consciousness), for It is quite self-evident!
It is because the intellect is distracted by particular appearances of name and form imagined through ignorance that brahman, even though self-evident, easily realizable, nearer than all else and identical with oneself, appears to be concealed, difficult to realize, very far and different.
But to those whose intellect has become free from external appearances and who have obtained the grace of a teacher and serenity of mind, there is nothing more blissful, manifest, well known, easily realized and nearer to oneself than this Self. And thus it has been declared: ‘प्रत्यक्षावगमं धर्म्यम्’ (directly realizable, righteous) – 9.2, BGB.
Complete steadfastness in the Knowledge of the Self, however, is impossible for those who have not been duly initiated into the traditional Knowledge by proper Gurus (न नरेणावरेण प्रोक्त एष सुविज्ञेय: (The Self is not certainly adequately known when spoken of by an inferior person; for It is thought of variously) – 1.2.8, kaTha Upanishad), who have not learned and studied the (teachings of the) Vedanta, whose intellect is quite engrossed in the external objects of senses, and who have not been trained in the right sources of True Knowledge.
— Therefore, it is only a cessation of the perception of the differentiated forms of the external world that can lead to a firm grasp of the real nature of the Self.
— The Self is not a thing unknown to anybody at any time, is not a thing to be reached or got rid of or acquired.
— It is not possible to imagine that pleasure is for pleasure’s sake and pain is for pain’s sake.
Self-knowledge is the aim of all human endeavor.
“The duties of the different stages of life are needed not for the fruition of the result of Knowledge, but for the emergence of Knowledge itself.” (3.4.26, BSB). “Sacrifices etc., when performed without any motive for fruits, become the means for the attainment of knowledge by an aspirant who desires liberation. Hence sacrifices etc. and self-control etc., which are the duties of the respective stages of life, are all but a means for the emergence of knowledge.” 3.4.27, BSB.
Just as there is no need for an external evidence by which to know one’s own body, so there is no need for an external evidence by which to know the Self who is even nearer than the body. Thus, it is clear that, to those who can discriminate, the Atma jnAna niShTha (abidance in/as Self-knowledge) is easy of attainment.
The fulfilled individual will also then appreciate how the word brahman implies several equivalents as expressed by Shankara in his bhAShya-s.
‘ज्ञानं ब्रह्म’ (Self-knowledge is brahman) — 2.2.1, taittirIya.U.
विज्ञानं ब्रह्म चेद्वेद (It should be known that Knowledge is brahman) — 2.5.1, taittirIya.U.
विज्ञानं ब्रह्मेति व्यजानात् (One should understand that brahman is Knowledge) — 3.4.1., taittirIya.U.
प्रज्ञानं ब्रह्म (Absolute Knowledge is brahman)– 3.1.3, aitareya.U.
ब्रह्मभावश्च मोक्षः (Liberation is the state of identity with brahman) — 1.1.4, BSB.
अशरीरता हि आत्मनः स्वरूपम् (The nature of the Self surely is disembodiedness). — 8.3.4, chAn.U.B.
[Also: प्रियाप्रियाभ्यां न वै सशरीरस्य सतः प्रियाप्रिययोरपहतिरस्त्यशरीरं वाव सन्तं न प्रियाप्रिये स्पृशतः ॥ (For anyone with a body, there is no getting rid of pleasure and pain;
but pleasure and pain do not, indeed, touch the unbodied Being). — 8.12.1, chAn.U.]
ब्रह्मैव हि मुक्त्यवस्था (The state of liberation being nothing but brahman Itself.) – 3.4.52, BSB.
मोक्षाख्यस्याशरीरत्वस्य प्रतिषिध्यत इति गम्यते (Emancipation is the same as disembodiment (bodylessness) – 1.1.4, BSB.
शरीरवियोगो हि मोक्ष आत्यन्तिकः (Absolute separation from the body is liberation.) — 3.9.28, Br.U.
[Note: All translations from Shankara bhAShya-s adopted from the works of Swami Gambhirananda or Shri Alladi Mahadeva Sastri.]